Saturday, February 28, 2009

February's Reads: I Get My Reading Groove Back

I'm back from my visa run to Japan and settled into my new place now. It's a studio apartment, built long and narrow. I put the bookshelves right across the room from the bed so I get to see my whole library when I wake up in the mornings.

Moving in Korea is great. You don't have to pack or unpack anything -- the movers do it all. They unshelved the books in Gumi, drove them to Erewhon and carried them up and reshelved them there. I had to leave one of the bookshelves behind (school property...too bad! 7 ft. 7-shelf bookcase!) so the movers were forced to leave bookpiles all over the floor of the new apartment. Lovely, but not easy to navigate.

After studying the shelf for about a day, I decided to cull out some (more) books and stack some of the taller shelves horizontally. It worked! I got everything to fit on 2 shelves. I'll post some pictures later.

The new job starts on Monday. I hope I get my faculty ID card soon because that's the Golden Ticket into my new library. This is it. How do you like that glass wedgie thing on top? It glows green at night.

Reading Roundup:

During February, I feel as if I got my groove back, reading a total of six books:

1. Country Music: The Masters - Marty Stuart. I found this one at my mom's house. A huge and heavy book full of photographs taken by Marty Stuart and others over the years. Also includes a CD, making this my first audio book in quite some time. Photos that have stayed with me include: Stringbean's home, where he and his wife were murdered, Connie Smith sitting in her car wearing a beautiful blue dress, the pages and pages of Nudie suits, Jerry Lee Lewis at the piano in Berlin with a bottle of whisky at his feet, a cheeky but tender photo of Johnny Cash grabbing June Carter's backside and of course, the stark black-and-white cover photo of Johnny Cash which turned out to be the last photo ever taken of him. His expression is otherworldly. He looks like he belongs in a daguerreotype. There were dozens of bluegrass performers. I know I was looking at some greats, but my background in this area of music is solely lacking. Marty did a great job. I hope there will be a Volume Two.

2. Fried Eggs With Chopsticks - Polly Evans. Back in 2002, Polly Evans got the idea to travel across China by train. Sometimes her journey was smooth, sometimes a little rocky. I really like Evans as a travel writer because she's not overly chipper about her experiences. If something doesn't go well, she levels with the reader, keeping it real. She's up for adventure, but not shy about admitting that she misses her creature comforts as well. My only nitpick is that she constantly writes the word "jabber" (in a manner that I took to be pejorative) to indicate when she doesn't understand the Chinese that's being spoken to her. I think she could have taken a moment to ruefully acknowledge that when she makes inquiries in English, she's jabbering as well. That was the only fault I found with Evans' book. I hope to read more about her travels. I read this for The Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge.

3. Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry. I first read this book back in 1986. 23 years later, I love it even better. The character who came sharply into focus for me this time was Call. I didn't remember that he had any point-of-view scenes. I remembered him mainly through Gus's and Clara's eyes. I'd also forgotten that Newt's coming-of-age plays a big part in the plot. Jake Spoon came off weak and contemptible this time. I only remembered him as a dashing rake prone to bad luck. I admired Clara as before, but this time more fully understood what challenges she had encountered on the harsh Nebraska plains. My plan is to read the rest of the Lonesome Dove quartet: Streets of Laredo, Dead Man's Walk and Comanche Moon.

4. Call It Courage - Armstrong Sperry. I wasn't planning to read this 1941 Newbery winner, but I had to cool my heels for a while in my new director's office. I hadn't brought anything to read and this was on the shelf. 15-year-old Mafatu lives on a Polynesian island, where his father is chief of a people who prize courage above all else. Twelve years before, Mafatu and his mother were caught in a hurricane. She died and Mafatu was left with an overwhelming dread of the sea. He hasn't outgrown it, so as a result, his father is ashamed of him and his peers jeer at him. Mafatu makes the decision to sail out to sea on his own. He doesn't know if he'll return or the sea god will finish him, but Mafatu is determined to face his fears. An action-packed read about a boy who is braver and more resourceful than he or anyone ever guessed. I kept thinking that Sawyer (from Lost) might like this book.

5. My Boring-Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith - Kevin Smith. My son kept talking about this book, so I took it with me to Japan. If you don't have a stomach for raunchy, don't go near My Boring-Ass Life. Personally, I loved it, but I've always felt that under this sweet middle-aged lady exterior beats the heart of a Neanderthal-ish 8th grade boy. Writer/director Kevin Smith shares (and shares and shares) about his everyday life, sparing no detail. For about 100 pages, his entries (which first appeared on his blog) get a little monotonous, but then, on the anniversary of his father's death, he writes movingly about the wonderful evening the whole family had together before his father (Smith's inspiration for Silent Bob) went into cardiac arrest the next morning. After that, it's back to his ribald delivery about struggles with his weight and suffering an anal fissure and filming Clerks II. There's also a rather spirited and vigorous defense of nose-picking! The standout piece in the book (and also where Smith allows himself to get a little serious) is Me And My Shadow, a 9-part detailed account of Jason Mewes's (the Jay to Smith's Silent Bob) struggles with addictions to alcohol, marijuana, heroin and Oxycontin and his subsequent success in getting clean after a myriad of false starts and broken promises. I've always liked Smith's movies. After reading My Boring-Ass Life, I'm a bigger fan than ever.

6. Consider The Oyster - M.F.K. Fisher. This is a slim volume, but Fisher delivers the goods in spades. She begins by examining the life of the oyster, then moves onto the many ways that oysters can be enjoyed -- oyster stew, oyster soup, fried, right out of the shell, as stuffing for Thanksgiving turkey and a few other recipes that had my eyes and mouth watering for my mother's oyster dressing. Speaking of mothers, Fisher writes about her mother's reminiscences of eating oyster loaf during secret "midnight feasts" in boarding school during the 1890s. Culinarily haunted by her mother's memories, Fisher hunted for oyster loaf recipes like the one her mother described, but never attempted it because she didn't think the result would come close to matching the savory experience in her mind's taste buds. There's a chapter about how pearls are made, and a humorous chapter about the oyster's well-known reputation as an aphrodisiac. M.F.K. Fisher writes so beautifully and seductively. I read this for the Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge and I'm so glad I did. If this book comes across your path, grab it up.

Now that I've got my mojo going again, it's back to Middlemarch. Hopefully, I'll finish it by the middle of March.


Kathy said...

Your new library is interesting looking. I hope you get your faculty id soon too -- more books!

raych said...

I heart Lonesome Dove. Also, I read Call it Courage in high school, and even though I have almost flawless book-non-recall (allowing for ENDLESS REREADING!), I totally remember everything about that book.

Eva said...

Fried Eggs With Chopsticks sounds great! Your new library is very cool looking, at least from the outside. And those Korean movers sound awesome. :)

jenclair said...

Hope the new job goes well and that you quickly accustom yourself to all the idiosyncrasies that it entails!

Jenny said...

You read two of my favorites in this batch -- I actually listened to Lonesome Dove on audiobook (over a series of very long commutes), and it was spectacular. I adored it. And MFK Fisher is a hero of mine. She can make scrambled eggs sound like a feast for company, literally. Thanks for the wonderful reviews!

Bookfool said...

I love the idea of having someone else pack, carry and unpack my books. I've always had to do all the boxing and unpacking, although there've usually been some hefty males to help carry to the moving van (UHaul, always UHaul).

Susan said...

I'm finally able to get on a bit more longer, so who do I come see? book-twin! I've missed you! I have to read Lonesome Dove some day, I still haven't. And the Bob book too....and I have Consider the Oyster, I just have to open it! I like her writing, she reminds me of why food and eating should be a pleasure, and not a duty (I tend to love food anyway, but these days it's nice to find someone who considers pleasurable ways of eating).

Love the picture of your new job building and I'm so happy you have work. Yaay for working! I could use those Korean workers, they can move my shelves any time! My husband would be happy! lol

Tara said...

Welcome back! I love the sound of moving in Korea! That must cut down on the number of boxes used. Your new place sounds great.